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The True Meaning of Teamwork
by Sloan Campbell


It never fails to surprise me how many times 'a lack of teamwork' is blamed for such a wide variety of everyday business dilemmas. Dilemmas like late delivery, poor quality, a blown budget or poor customer management.

The simple truth is that people in business today do not understand the true concept of teamwork. Over the years there have been some unbelievable examples of teamwork in our day-to-day lives; like the 1927 New York Yankees Baseball Team, the 1972 Miami Dolphins Football Team, the Navy SEAL Teams or Fire Fighters anywhere - the list goes on and on.

So how do we consistently achieve the type of teamwork where all team members feel the same way about a goal or a mission, they work towards that end and it comes naturally … in business ? I don't think we can - not because it isn't possible, because it requires a type of commitment that isn't achievable in today's business environment.

Today's business teams are inundated with so many outside influences that the end-point often becomes blurred and the teamwork begins to deteriorate because of the multiple responsibilities of each of the team members.

It has long been understood that winning teams contain certain characteristics:

  • Have a great many winners in them; most of the members are poised and confident, and although they may well be 'stars' in their own right they allow others to shine in order to become a 'star team' together.

  • Often include winning groups and combinations, which work together so well they seem to have a sixth sense, when in fact they have merely learned to cooperate to make each other winners and to make a team a winning team.

  • Have the winning habit and because they usually have more 'wins' behind them than otherwise, so they go into every game expecting to win.

  • Develop a synergy that comes from winning and which increases not by simple progression but exponentially.

  • Develop both mental and physical energy to withstand adversity.

  • Create a winning atmosphere - everyone surrounding them emerges as a winner.

  • Make winning contagious so that newcomers soon acquire the team's magic.1

Basically winning is a habit … just like losing. The fact of the matter is that all great teams have one thing in common, which fundamentally ensures True Teamwork - a single focus. This is precisely why I don't believe that True Teamwork can be accomplished in today's business environment. If an organization wants to be successful in today's global workplace, where fewer people are asked to do more with even fewer resources, multi-tasking is essential which means a singular focus is virtually impossible.

Let's examine the team characteristics of one of our outstanding teams- The 1927 New York Yankees Baseball Team: affectionately named Murderers' Row, in deference to a line-up dominated by two incomparable sluggers. Babe Ruth (.356 BA, 60 HRs, 164 RBIs, 158 runs, 137 BBs) and Lou Gehrig (.373 BA, 47 HRs, 175 RBIs, 149 runs, 109 BBs) posted numbers that would earn them nine-figure deals in today's market. The Yankees topped the AL in home runs with 156, exactly 100 more than any other team. Ruth out-homered all seven other AL clubs himself. Bolstered by the league's best pitching staff, the Yankees set an American League record with 110 wins, outpacing second-place Philadelphia by 19 games. They were in first place every day of the season, then polished off the Pirates, 4-0, in the World Series. No team has ever so dominated an entire season.2

Continuing with the belief that winning teams have certain notable characteristics; the 1927 New York Yankees' characteristics would be listed as follows:

  • Many Winners, Winning Groups & Combinations - The Yankees topped the AL in home runs with 156, exactly 100 more than any other team. Ruth out-homered all seven other AL clubs himself. As if that wasn't enough the Yankees were bolstered by the league's best pitching staff.

  • A Winning Habit - They were in first place every day of the season.

  • Synergy - Nicknamed Murderers' Row.

  • Withstand Adversity - So many 'firsts' in the baseball world.

  • Winning Atmosphere - In pitching, the team had six players with at least 10 wins.

  • Making Winning Contagious - The team lead the American League in every offensive category in 1927 with the exception of stolen bases and doubles.

If this is truly the case, then why bother to pursue team building and/or teamwork in your organization? Simple, regardless of whether or not you find the ultimate True Teamwork experience, the foundation of the teamwork philosophy offers many of the values directly attributable to organizational success - complementary skills, well-defined working approach, meaningful purpose, clear performance goals, mutual accountability and small numbers.

All is not lost, when building a team there are things that can be done to position your team for success, like The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork:

  1. The Law of Significance: One is Too Small a Number to Achieve Greatness
  2. The Law of the Big Picture: The Goal is More Important Than the Role
  3. The Law of the Niche: All Players Have a Place Where They Add the Most Value
  4. The Law of the Great Challenge ("Mount Everest"): As the Challenge Escalates, the Need for Teamwork Elevates
  5. The Law of the Chain: The Strength of the Team is Impacted by its Weakest Link
  6. The Law of the Catalyst: Winning Teams Have Players Who Make Things Happen
  7. The Law of the Vision ("Compass"): Vision Gives Team Members Direction and Confidence
  8. The Law of the Bad Apple: Rotten Attitudes Ruin a Team
  9. The Law of Countability: Team-mates Must be Able to Count on Each Other When it Counts
  10. The Law of the Price Tag: The Team Fails to Reach its Potential When it Fails to Pay the Price
  11. The Law of the Scoreboard: The Team Can Make Adjustments When it Knows Where it Stands
  12. The Law of the Bench: Great Teams Have Great Depth
  13. The Law of Identity: Shared Values Define the Team
  14. The Law of Communication: Interaction Fuels Action
  15. The Law of the Edge: The Difference Between Two Equally Talented Teams is Leadership
  16. The Law of High Morale: When You're Winning, Nothing Hurts
  17. The Law of Dividends: Investing in the Team Compounds Over Time 3

These laws will not guarantee successful teams or successful teamwork, but they will definitely put you on the correct path to success … what more can you ask for.

If you take only one thought away from this article, please let it be that you will be honest in your quest for successful teamwork, and recognize the fact that True Teamwork is an elusive and magical result that should be left to companies with a single product or focus (if they exist), our everyday heroes and sports franchises chasing a world championship.

Any teamwork venture not having to live up to the True Teamwork lofty standards will have a much greater chance for success.

I will leave you with the following two quotes, which epitomize the essence of True Teamwork

"Coming together is a beginning, Keeping together is progress & Working together is success" - Henry Ford

"Synergy - the bonus that is achieved when things work together harmoniously" - Mark Twain

Happy teaming.


1. Winning Team Characteristics:

2. The 1927 New York Yankees:

3. The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork:


The Author


Sloan Campbell is a Program Manager at ELCAN Optical Technologies. ELCAN Optical Technologies (ELCAN) is a world photonics leader specializing in the design and manufacture of complex, precision opto-mechanical and electro-optical systems and subsystems for projection display, medical, industrial, automotive, defence, entertainment and telecommunications markets.

Many more articles in High Performance Teams in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2005 by Sloan Campbell. All rights reserved.

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